News Column

Israel Lobbies for Egyptian Military

August 21, 2013

Ofira Koopmans, dpa

As the violence and political chaos deepen in Egypt, authorities in Israel are attempting to reconcile two new realities: relief that the Muslim Brotherhood lost power and fear that the tumult that followed could destabilize the entire region.

Israel's military has close ties with General Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, who ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, dating back to when al-Sissi's was head of Egypt's military intelligence.

Egypt's military remains a crucial ally for Israel on matters of national security. And, for Israel, a pro-Western and secular Egypt is by far preferable to an Islamist state.

This imperative led Israel to launch an intense diplomatic campaign to urge Europe and the United States to support the military-backed government in Cairo despite its deadly crackdown on pro-Morsi protesters, the New York Times reported this week.

But a senior Israeli official characterized the diplomats' approach as more of a soft-sell.

"We have a conversation with the Europeans, the Americans and with others," he told dpa on condition of anonymity, but added: "That is different from trying to convince someone to do this or do that."

"Our view is, first of all, that everything that has been going on in the Arab world for the past two years is not about us," he said.

"Having said that, we are here, physically here. They are on our border ... Egypt has a peace treaty with us and that peace treaty is not the, but one of the, foundation stones of the stability of the entire Middle East."

"The first thing that we want is stability," he said.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan went as far as to claim that the Jewish state had a hand in Morsi's overthrow.

Erdogan "clearly lost his mind" due to the fact he lost an important friend and ally in Morsi, said a comment in the left-liberal Haaretz daily, which even compared Erdogan's comment to the classic anti-Semitic idea that Jews are behind many world events.

Many local observers agreed, however, that Morsi's fall was a gift for Israel.

"Obviously, having the Muslim Brotherhood moved away is definitely good for Israel," said Jonathan Fine, a professor in international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv.

"Egypt is the cornerstone of the Arab world. Whatever happens there immediately spills over into the entire region," he said, adding that had the Muslim Brotherhood consolidated its power, this would have boosted Islamists throughout the region.

Egypt, he said, was "definitely in a key position" to determine who in the long run would emerge victorious from the Arab Spring, marked by an "internal struggle between moderate pro-Western Arabs and radical Muslims throughout the region."

"If we don't keep Egypt as a pro-Western ally, as a moderate actor in the region, we're all gonna lose," he said, warning against the West turning its back on al-Sissi and cutting off aid over the crackdown.

"We can't let Egypt fall into the hands of radical Islam."

Most immediately, officials are worried about anarchy in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, which borders Israel to the south.

Haaretz reported this week that the Shin Bet internal security organization identified some 15 different groups with links to the global Jihad and al-Qaeda who are active in the peninsula. It formed a special unit to deal with the threat.

Earlier this month, a battery of Israel's Iron Dome short-range air defence system shot down a missile headed for the southern Israeli Red Sea Resort of Eilat.

"We are worried. Of course we are worried," said the Israeli official to dpa.

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Source: Copyright 2013 dpa Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH

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